Equal opportunity has been at the forefront of the world of sports for a while now. It all seems to be coming to a breaking point with recent fallout from the comments at the Indian Wells tennis tournament, and now the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the team should receive equal benefits. Some people in the industry will point out that men’s sports generates more revenue than women’s sports and therefore deserve higher compensation, but that isn’t the complete case with U.S. Soccer.
When we review what drives the industry financially it always comes down to TV rights, sponsorship deals, and tickets/concessions. Those are the major revenue drivers, and that’s the general argument why men’s sports are more highly compensated, they create more revenue in all of those areas. With the national soccer teams that isn’t the case. U.S. Soccer is paid its TV rights by FIFA. The TV rights that were sold include both the men’s and women’s World Cups. It wasn’t divided up where $100 million is for the women’s rights and $325 was for the men’s rights. The USWNT also has the highest rated soccer match in U.S. history with their last World Cup win.
Sponsorship deals run through U.S. Soccer as well. Even if there was a disparity with official partnership deals, it doesn’t explain the difference in pay for national team friendlies — men are compensated $5,000 for a loss and $17,625 for a victory against a highly-ranked opponent. Women receive payment only in wins, and its less than $2,000. Ticket sales are also similar. The USWNT sold 20,000 tickets for its friendly against China this year. The USMNT just sold 20,000 tickets for its match against Guatemala.
This sounds like all things are equal. So if it is, why not treat U.S. Soccer the same way we treat the NCAA. Apply Title IX-like rules and be done with it. UConn has success with both men’s and women’s basketball. In 2014, the men’s team generated $7.3 million in revenue, the women’s team generated $5.9 million in 2014. Both have to have similar benefits under Title IX. It makes sense a national organization would try and abide by those rules.
Look, this doesn’t have to carry over to professional leagues where the goal is to make as much money as possible. Equal pay would ruin women’s professional leagues like the WNBA. There isn’t a comparison. There is also the argument that if the USMNT could ever make a World Cup Final it would smash the USWNT TV record, but that hasn’t happened yet. The USMNT is barely qualifying for the next World Cup as we speak. However, TV numbers bear out that the Men’s World Cup is a larger TV draw overall. The 2014 final drew similar TV numbers to the USWNT victory and it featured Argentina and Germany.
There’s no easy answers, but the disparity is too large for anyone to ignore any longer. Professional leagues have a mission statement where they are out to make a profit. That isn’t and shouldn’t be the case for a national sports organization. Title IX seems like a good framework for U.S. Soccer to look at.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.